Sunday, January 29, 2006


A bit of a drizzly weekend but hey, it's holiday time!

Went out to eat delicious Sichuan food with old friends of ours from Cornwall (Canada, that is), Andy and David. They saw me grow up, i was their witness at their wedding at age 10, i remember tobogganing down the big hill behind their flat onto the frozen St. Lawrence River...

They haven't changed much although i apparently have lost my "Bonnie baby fat", thank God.

Played some intense beach Ultimate Frisbee yesterday here at DB. Only a few showed up due to the weather but it was great nonetheless.

It's the year of the dog and apparently a lot of people are going out to buy themselves a cute little puppy, only to be left on the street a few months down the road when their owners realize that the cute button-nose dog they thought was adorable 6 months ago has grown too big for the confines of a small HK apartment.

Upon being abandoned on the street, if, after a short unforgiving 48 hours, the owner hasn't claimed the dog back, it is put down by the pound. Can't wait to see what happens when the year of the pig rolls around, or snake for that matter.

Going to meet with my Grandma's sister in Tuen Mun for lunch. It'll be great to see her, have been meaning to visit ever since i got here. She lives alone in her flat on the 6th floor with no elevators, she claims this keeps her fit and young.

Tonight we will be meeting with 2nd cousins of mine, Max and Stephen, for dinner and then going to see the New Year's Parade downtown. Hoping the rain will hold up for that.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chinese New Year buzz

I don't know when this winter thing is supposed to be over in Hong Kong, but it is freezing in the house.

Dave Wong, our Chinese-American friend whom we met in Urumqi came to stay for a night while passing thru on his way to Manila for a family reunion. It was the first time a guest had stayed over night in our home!

It was great to see him, talking nonstop and catching up basically over the past few months. We went out for scrumptious yum-cha yesterday and although i was never one for the loud clanky restaurants with loads of loud and obnoxious people, it was really fun. He'll be back in a few days before heading up to Urumqi.

Funny, he's made Urumqi, probably one of the most awkward cities to get to, his 'base' but it seems to work for him. Oh, and i'm proud to say i got him hooked on the LOST series. He's probably finished several episodes by now as i type.

I'm going to meet a friend of my sister's, Andrea, for lunch later today, and then visit the Art Gallery; she came over on an internship with The Standard, another English newspaper here.

So the plan is to pick her brain on what she thinks of this field in HK, etc etc. I start class tomorrow at HK Uni, very excited! Although i won't get credit for it (too late on the application this year), i'm happy to be back in the academic environment and revitalize my relatively mush-like brain.

The course i'm taking is called Literary Journalism, I have my readings for the lecture and yesterday I bought a book that is recommended for the class.

Life is good, have been running and keeping fit with frisbee and yoga and generally just feeling much more healthy. Chinese New Year buzz is in the air and everything is suddenly covered in bright red banners and lanterns, people are off on holiday, special foods can be found in stores made particularly for this festive time (loh-bak-gou, a sort of chewy taro cake with dried shrimp - delicious!) and it seems that the agreed mood of the people on the street is H-A-P-P-Y. Hey, i'm cool with that.

Matt returns from Shanghai tonight after a couple days there. Yay! I don't like when he's away. Hate it. But i know it's for the best for us in the future and for the other doors that will open because of it.

I can't stand it anymore, i'm off to find a VERY warm and EXTREMELY cozy coffee shop to do my readings.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

my week

Interesting week full of ups and downs. Had a great interview with Outward Bound and am attending the extended interview selection weekend this Sat/Sun.

Long story short, it's an organizaton both Matt and I want to get involved in and so after a lot of deliberation and discussion, we decided it was only something we would want to do together. Most likely not this year, but perhaps in a year or two.

The time commitment is enormous and most staff members are expected to live onsite, which puts a strain on one's social life and relationships for obvious reasons. Anyways, more to come on that after the weekend.

We'll be going out into the 'wilderness' and assessed on group work, leadership skills, and just basically how comfortable we are in that kind of environment. Hoping for sunshine and warm winds, but it looks like it'll be cold and drizzly. Ah well.

Ultimate frisbee is something we've taken up also with a group of very friendly and sociable expats. We meet every Sunday and Wednesday, all different levels and all are there to mainly have fun and get some exercise. I've finally learned the proper way of throwing a disc and the rules of the sport.

Finally, after having played impromptu Ultimate in Urumqi on concrete grounds with metal spikes poking out, the game has suddenly become more interesting and enjoyable, especially now that I'm playing on proper grass fields.

Bought my first pair of soccer shoes too the other day so at least i can look the part and feel professional.

Life continues to putter along in DB, however i have to say living here does do some weird things to you, and according to a few well-informed women who are pretty much lifers here in HK, DB apparently has a higher than normal rate of pregnancy (don't ask me what a normal rate would be) and from the looks of it, every women is either pregnant or holding a baby.

Pros and cons with living here, but it is definitely more difficult to meet people to socialize with since a lot of their day is programmed around their kids, fair enough. A lot of couples who haven't plunged into the baby scene yet have resorted to the puppy avenue.

Not us, don't think we could handle it truthfully. Plants are plenty enough.

Friday, January 13, 2006

feeling much better now, thankfully

Today was such a contrast to yesterday. I had been feeling blah to my stomach for a while and then yesterday my muscles started to ache all over as immense waves of tiredness washed over me.

I think it may have been due to a reaction of the flu vaccine i received on Tuesday. I don't ever recall getting a flu vaccine before but this year we thought it was a good idea (even though i know it doesn't prevent bird flu like a lot of people think, it does prevent you from getting other flus and running your system down - except for the reaction itself).

So yesterday, after a (knock on wood) successful interview with the Hans Anderson Club, which btw was conducted all in Cantonese!!, i felt so sick i just went home and slept all afternoon.

I woke up today in a much sunnier state and the day unfolded to be exactly what i needed to recharge myself. I was able to wake up to my own internal clock for a change, putter around a bit, spend hours pouring over university courses and applications, send off a resume for a job i saw listed in the SCMP (South China Morning Post, HK's leading English paper) as an Instructor Trainee for Outward Bound, an "experiential learning-by-participating" organization that focuses on leadership, teamwork and motivational courses by offering mainly outdoor adventure activities .. and then an hour later get called for the interview for Tuesday - yay!

I cooked myself a late 5pm lunch, read some, cleaned the whole house while humming The Sound of Music sountrack, then took a leisurely walk down to the plaza to return a DVD at the video shop (the 2nd late return of the week, gotta stop that) and then attended an extremely re-energizing yoga class.

Now i'm stuffed from my congee/egg/tomato dinner and a ton of cookies 'n cream ice-cream. Whoa, it just suddenly occured to me i am definitely what i eat: my Chinese upbringing with hot fresh food did not in the least deter me from my North-American binge on sweet cold goodness!

About to crash here, goodnight all.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Breaktime's over!

Sorry to those who check this journal regularly, i haven't written lately.

Many excuses, but the primary one being i just haven't had access to a computer for the past week because Matt and I have been in Taiwan camping and hiking and exploring the island's many twisty and turny roads.

One of the beauties of living in HK is the accessibility of other nearby countries, cheap(er) flights and all within a few hours' journey (to Taiwan it is just an hour and a half!)

We decided that after a month-long moving-in process, not just buying everything from a bed frame to a rice cooker, but also (for Matt) starting a new job with no real parameters and (for me) looking for employment and researching school courses, that we 'deserved' a break.

Timing couldn't have been better as I would not have to start work/school until late Jan .. more to come later.

To back up, we entered 2006 with a beach and bonfire fiesta on Lantau Island with our friends YK and Tomoe. We chilled champagne in the stream beside our campsite, roasted delicious sausage-kebabs on our open fire, had miso soup, pasta salad, hummus, and a special 2006 cake.

We set up our tents right on the beach but not until a few hours later did we realize that the tide was actually RISING.

Visions of a wet miserable night came into mind so, hailing from an island where hi/lo tides are published in the daily paper, Matt volunteered to dig a trench around the fire so if, and when, the water came up it would hopefully not engulf the fire.

Lucky for us, the tide came about 3 feet from the flames. We left for Taiwan on Jan.2nd, eager to use all the new camping gear we had just purchased the previous day.

Armed with our Lonely Planet guidebook, several maps and a rental car (a Toyota Vios... no Beijing jeep was available unfortunately), we headed out to explore and discover the island's fascinating culture and people.

What an interesting place it is - land of scooters, a bit of the China'isms exist but with a lot more of the temples and historic relics still intact. The scenery is stunning; you can be thousands of meters above sea level in the thick fog of the mountains and then an hour later be down in the deep valley where roadside shantytowns are scattered in what seems to be no particular order.

Dogs were a familiar sighting, but don't be fooled, these aren't like the domestic animals we're used to. To sum up their character, they are pathetically lazy. An example: while driving down a really narrow street, i turned the corner and gasped in horror as i saw a dog sprawled out in the open road. I would have bet anyone he was a classic textbook case of a hit-and-run.

I slamed on the brakes and as I veered left to go around it, it slowly lifts his head to see what in the world was bothering its sleep. Greatly relieved, we just laughted and zoomed off, but this is just one of the many examples of how dogs are in Taiwan. They own the streets and YOU had better watch out.

First we headed down the exhilerating Suao-Hualien highway on the east coast, where LP states it's "a white-knuckle ride with stunning views" and as beautiful as the fine-sand beaches and deep-cut gorges that blended into rice paddies were for me, the only "white-knuckle" shots of adrenalin came from the idiots that were sharing the road with us, or rather, make that the idiots who considered the road to be all to themselves and therefore gave no heed to other vehicles behind, in front, or beside them.

In any case, we made our way to Tarako National Park, a wild and pristine area of Taiwan that all tourists should really make the effort in visiting. A multitude of mountain tunnels and passes, deep gorges, twisting ravines, lucious waterfalls - it was like driving through a forest wonderland where i half expected little elves to jump out from behind the trees.

We decided we wanted to hike around and camp for the night and so we stopped at the visitor's centre to get some more info. It took a while but after talking to a few people whose best advice was either to camp in the parking lot or to stay in the youth hostels, we managed to speak to a staff member who had impeccable English and most importantly, understood our definition of 'camping'.

This man was so accommodating that he even gave us two gas canisters for free when we asked where we could buy them (can't bring them on the plane). This was obviously against Park policy and he made a motion with his finger to his lips to the other staffers so that this would be kept off the record. What a pleasant surprise of random kindness.

Besides visiting a weird unnatural sight of a fire-water cave and Moon World where the mountains are barren, bleak and dry (a little bit of Xinjiang in the heart of Taiwan, who would've thought?), we had a good variety of Taiwanese food too: freshly grown veggies, lots of different tofus, ginseng soup, and they seem to be very fond of putting little dried fish into most of their dishes which actually makes it quite tasty.

Taiwanese beer is delicious and even their 'baijiu' (Chinese liquor) is drinkable, no kidding. One of the best meals we had was when we were staying at one of the hot spring resorts in Chienshih after a night of camping in wet, foggy Dongyanshan Forest Recreation Area.

We ventured out to get supper at the outdoor bar/restaurant but forgot, yet again, that most places stop serving food around 7pm, especially in the rural areas where the day is dictated more by the sun.

We asked the lady at the counter about something on the menu but she just said she couldn't understand us, and then proceeded to continue with her apparently tedious task of washing the dishes.

We tried to ask her a few more questions regarding food for supper, but was met with even more glares and an obvious dislike for foreigners who tried to speak her language. I refused to eat there at that point even if meant resorting to eating our energy bars that we had brought from HK by the boxfull.

This rude lady was the exact opposite of what customer service should be and the thought "Oh God, it's like being back in China!" crossed my mind. Little did we know, when we went up to the front desk and told them of the bad-tempered lady at the bar, they kind of laughed and brushed it off by saying she was from the Mainland, as if it were the most natural reason.

If anything can be deduced and explained in one exasperated remark, that was it. They then helped us draw a map of where we could go into town and find some food stalls that were probably still open this late at night, although it was only about 8pm.

So off we went in search for food, and about 10 minutes later, we saw a little roadside restaurant made of bamboo walls with a bright neon side lit outside: Mama's Restaurant. The food was delicious (rice noodle soup, home-grown veggies, rice with a special meat-based sauce and tofu, and then later complimentary goose neck) but the hospitality was something else!

Run by a local family, the place had just opened this past week and they were just the most charming people we had come across. Stuffed from food and drink, our spirits were restored and we were grateful for not having let that sour lady at the resort ruin our evening.

It was a good road trip altogether, covering a lot of ground, a variety of scenery and a big range in terms of weather and altitude, oh and customer service! I learned a lot by just seeing Taiwan through the car window, a unique place that is building-up quickly in the city with some rural villages still scrambling to develop and keep up.

Usually in China I am asked/assumed I am Chinese from China. In Taiwan, everyone asked/assumed I was Taiwanese from Taiwan. Although when i did explain to them that i was a Chinese-born Canadian, most people understood that concept whereas in China, I was either met with blank stares or disputed with stubborn remarks that no matter what, because i looked Chinese and have 100% Chinese blood in me, it was obvious i was Chinese.

I also learned about checking things twice in hotel rooms before leaving. I had hung up my brand new red waterproof jacket in the hotel closet and forgot about it the next morning, when in Taipei already just about to drop off the rental car, i freak out and realize the jacket was still back at the hotel.

Matt scolded me for being so scatter-brained and i definitely vow to work on the philosophy that "an item is only lost when you put it somewhere where you'll forget about it later, not when the moment you begin searching for it."

The trip also allowed me to read some, write a bit and just collect my thoughts of the past few months and the busy ones to come. I realize more and more that as much as i enjoy socializing, meeting people and seeing new places, i do require personal time to 'recharge my batteries', a sort of private time where i can be as inward-focused as i want to be.

It's strange how we all deal with this in different ways, i guess i'm just allowing myself to grow and be selfish in this matter, knowing that in order to be of full use to others, i must first take care of myself.

o yesterday morning we flew back to HK, our first time to come back together to what we now proudly call 'our home', and that is such a glorious feeling. Everything that surrounds me here has been placed, organized and i'll admit, randomly thrown, into what has become HOME SWEET HOME.

I can actually claim that i now own my own couch, my own dining room set, even my own toothbrush holder! Bizzare, but it's that transition from being a temporary resident in a school dorm, in a rented apartment with roomates, or chez Ma and Pa's where food is cooked for you, laundry is free and access to vehicle is the norm, to a so-called grown up adult life where a blocked toilet can't just sit there forever and where the unwashed dishes at night are still there in the morning.

But at least when i throw things around and don't tidy up after myself, it's only one person who can bark at me now, and usually he'll do the same anyways ;)

Well, now on the job front it seems that i've got a few options to work with which is always a plus. Basically i'm now trying to arrange schedules, work visas (what a red-tape nuissance!!!!!!!!!!) so that everything and everybody is happy and that i'm left with enough time to still have a proper weekend and some down time.

One of them is with a local English Centre on HK Island where i'll be starting a new reading program with the wee ones, mainly doing interactive reading a couple times a week. The plan is to have it as a drop in session where anybody who is interested in the Centre can attend and see what it means to be engaged in an interactive reading class. I have images of me talking in strange voices with hand puppets, wearing wizard costumes and big clown shoes - but of course i'm loving it.

The other one is with an ESF (English School Foundation) school in Kowloon where i'll be working with special needs children in a regular classroom, helping them with the lessons while ensuring a safe and healthy classroom environment with the other students.

Both jobs are with two sets of students that i've never worked with before: really young kids (youngest being 2) and special needs children. I'm excited, anxious and eager.

My main hurdle is HK immigration where obtaining a work visa is a bureaucratic nightmare but i've just gotta breathe and be patient. Because a lot of things are kind of up in the air in HK during the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year (Jan.29), things are moving even more slowly.

I'll be the first to admit I am not for patience when i know there is a need for me to do something and all that is stopping me is a few signatures.

I have another interview tomorrow with a social/community group, Hans Anderson, on Lamma Island to work as a full-time social worker helping to integrate migrant families and their children into the community. It sounds like an interesting position but i'm thinking i'll prob stick with the other two.

Although, my dad always told me to "never burn my bridges" so i'll go to the interview and see what happens.... Phew, i've written enough today. Time to practice some Ben Harper on the guitar, and get some supper going.

* Here are some pics of the Taiwan trip.